Thursday, 30 June 2011

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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Resources: Tsunami Education

A collaboration of agencies, including the United States Geological Survey and UNESCO/IOC-NOAA International Tsunami Information Centre have produced a helpful video outlining the basics of tsunami's and how to protect yourself. The video, available on Youtube, could potentially be a useful resource in educating vulnerable communities about the actions to take in the event of a tsunami warning. For some communities there is often very little warning and so a rapid response is crucial. Effective planning and education such as understanding the links between earthquakes and tsunamis can give vital extra time. Simple steps such as clear street signs and identifying and practicing using routes to get inland and upland are also vital steps.

Other helpful Tsunami Education resources can be found at...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Critical Situation in the Horn of Africa: Worst Drought for 60 years

The horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya etc) has suffered from two very poor rainy seasons, resulting in poor harvests, reduced access to already poor water supplies and therefore millions of people needing humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity in this region is complicated by difficult access for humanitarian workers to large areas of conflict-ridden state Somalia. Relief Web has published an excellent and helpful PDF by UNOCHA outlining the situation in the region. With vast areas of the region in a critical state, one level short of catastophe/famine there is an urgent need for humanitarian assistance. 

Horn of Africa: On the brink of critical famine?

Rainy seasons will always fluctuate, and we can expect more poor rainy seasons in the future. In order to prevent similar crisis situations and serious famine there needs to be an investment in infrastructure - so food can be transported easily around the country to those places in severe need. The UNOCHA states that the situation in the coastal Somalian capital of Mogadishu is poor/serious compared to critical for agro-pastoral areas in other parts of Somalia. The ease of importing food into a coastal town is much easier than other parts of the country. In Ethiopia engineering geologists have been working on roads to connect more rural parts of the country with bigger towns, which will hopefully play an important role in helping food security in the country. In addition to infrastructure development, improvements in access to and management of groundwater resources is essential for irrigation, food security and health.

Development in this region must take a two-fold approach - with rapid and urgent investment in food security. UNOCHA currently estimates that it only has around 30-50% of the funding needed. In addition a long-term development plan including more investment in infrastructure and irrigation systems must be adopted to minimise the effects of poor rainy seasons in the future.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Kimberley Process in crisis - Zimbabwe "allowed" to sell controversial diamonds

In a post written earlier this month I noted the important role geoscientists have to play in the location, extraction, processing and protection of natural resources - such as metal ores, fossil fuels and precious stones. Precious stones, such as diamonds, have long been associated not only with corruption but also conflict in many areas of Africa. The Kimberley Process is a scheme to certify diamonds coming from sources where they are not used to fund conflict by rebel groups against legitimate governments. 

Diamonds have been used to fund conflicts and cause devastation in, amongst others, countries such as Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola in the past. Commonly known as 'blood diamonds' - these stones have a significant role in widespread human rights abuses, deepening poverty and widening inequalities. Geologists and gemmologists play an important role in characterising diamonds from different locations and recognising key identifying features to help in the monitoring process. The Kimberley Process had the potential to make a large difference to global development if it works effectively, and is wiling to reularly review its mission. 

It is sad therefore, to see evidence of the Kimberley Process falling short of its role and responsibility through a statement that appears to allow exports of diamonds from two fields in Zimbabwe that were reportedly seized by the Zimbabwean military. The decision by the current Kimberley Process Chairman from the DRC to go against protocol in ensuring a unanimous consensus, instead using a majority vote to justify this decision is worrying. Opposition from the EU, USA and Canada has been joined by concern from the Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as reported by the New York Times. Zimbabwean Finance Minister, a prominent member of the MDC, has questioned the validity of the majority vote, and others in the party are reported to be deeply concerned that money from the sale of these diamonds will be used by the military to fund violence against the MDC in future elections, in order to prop up the Zanu-PF party of Robert Mugabe.

This decision is a clear sign that it is time to update the Kimberley Process to include not only diamonds funding abuses by rebel groups against a legitimate government - but also diamonds funding abuses by governments against their own people. The UK government have stated that they are "deeply concerned" by this statement. We would urge the Foreign Office and EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Cathy Ashton, to push for a clarification of the 'unanimous' rule of the Kimberley Process, and seek a change to its rules and mission to ensure it retains the required credibility for this process to work.

Read More: FCO Conflict Minerals

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Resources: Weather & Atmospheric Hazards

There are a number of hazards and disasters associated with the weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, heat-waves, wildfires etc. Although these are not directly geological - the holistic nature of the earth means that there are significant interactions between atmospheric and weather hazards - and geohazards. 

For example, heavy rain leads to high groundwater levels thus increasing slope instability. Wildfires (sometimes caused deliberately, sometimes caused as a result of very high temperatures) lead to significant degradation of the ground. This can lead to debris flows and flooding when rains increase. A further example can be seen in Haiti. A huge earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, devastating the infrastructure, making many homeless and increasing communities vulnerability. Unfortunately Haiti also suffers from atmospheric hazards such as hurricanes, the impacts of which will be even bigger as a result of the earthquake and increased vulnerability.

A number of websites give good information about weather and atmospheric hazards:

Monday, 20 June 2011

Key Themes: Overview

You can now read the whole series of 'Key Themes' post here. The 'Key Themes' posts are a series of short articles outlining the role that geoscientists have in sustainable international development and reducing poverty.

Geologists play a crucial role in the discovery, access and sustainable management of clean water supplies through the study and application of hydrogeology. Access to clean water, and safe sanitation, brings improvements to health, education, earning potential and many other factors.

Food security is a huge and emerging problem facing global development. Huge numbers of people are already undernourished, and world populations are expected to rise significantly over the next 40 years. Sustainable agriculture is fundamental to global development. Agrogeology is the application of geology to agricultural practice, examining how soil nutrients, pH and soil structure can be improved using naturally occurring, mineral-rich rock materials

Geologists have a crucial role in studying and analysing the causes, mechanisms and impacts of geohazards. Geologists use their field skills to examine areas, which are prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, subsidence etc. Their knowledge can be used to generate hazard maps, inform the insurance industry, and help communities adapt to reduce the impact of the hazard.

Geologists play a significant role in modelling the impacts of future climatic conditions and impacts through their research into palaeoclimate. Geologists also have a role in both understanding how climate changes will impact on several key areas, and what can be done to adapt/mitigate/reduce the impacts within these areas - areas such as coastal erosion, flooding, groundwater and geohazards.

Natural resources include things such as precious metals, rare earth metals, base metals, industrial minerals, gemstones, fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and construction materials (aggregate, sand, clay, limestone). Geologists have a crucial role in locating, extracting, processing and protecting the natural resources that our economies and lifestyles are reliant on.
Physical infrastructure includes those things needed for society or enterprise to grow and flourish, and the economy to grow. It includes transport networks such as roads, airports and dockyards; energy networks such as power grids; telecommunications networks; solid waste management and water  management. Geologists are involved in investigating the ground conditions, identifying hazards and determining routes and locations to ensure effective and safe design.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Humanitarian Emergency Response Review: DFID's Response

When Lord Ashdown published his Humanitarian Emergency Response Review I authored a post broadly welcoming its conclusions. Its emphasis on anticipation, resilience and innovation was excellent and well thought through. The report seemed to be welcomed by NGOs across the country and it was sincerely hoped that the Department for International Development (DFID) would accept its conclusions.

Yesterday DFID's Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, outlined the Government's response to the paper - and did accept the vast majority of its conclusions. Andrew Mitchell stated that resilience will be built into all of its country programmes over the next four years. This transition from simply responding to emergencies to anticipating them, and building resilience into its core development work will result in reductions in lost lives, and reduce the social and economic impacts of such disasters. 

Outlined below are some key policy commitments (blue) made within this response and their significance:

Improve DFID's use of science in both predicting and preparing for disasters, drawing on the Chief Scientific Advisors’ network across government. Ensure scientific data on disaster risks is used to inform and prioritise country and regional level work on resilience.
  • The increased and improved use of science in predicting and preparing for disasters and building resilience is welcome. GfGD will be writing to DFID shortly to ask how geological science will be fed into this system, and state our belief that they should be making full use of geologist's knowledge and skills in this sector.

Make building resilience a core part of DFID’s approach in all of the countries where we work. Integrate resilience and disaster risk reduction into our work on climate change. 
  • For every £1 spent on disaster risk reduction, around £7 can be saved in economic losses, as well as many lives saved. It is of huge benefit to build resilience across developing countries. As countries adapt to climate change, they must also build resilience to new and emerging threats. With this in mind GfGD will be writing to DFID to ask them to review their decision to end funding to the UNISDR

Make humanitarian research and innovation a core part of DFID research and evidence work. Establish a ‘virtual’ humanitarian research and innovations team, under the direction of DFID’s Chief Scientific adviser
  • DFID's research must include ways to improve the anticipation of hazards and disasters. The development of multi-hazard risk assessments is one way to improve our understanding of the interaction of hazards.

Use innovative techniques and technologies more routinely in humanitarian response (for instance, cash transfers). 
  • The use of GIS, remote sensing images and multi-hazard models will play a crucial role in planning a response to any humanitarian situation.

Work with others to establish a single set of common accountability standards, which require participation of the most vulnerable groups (women, children, old people and disabled people) in all stages of the programme cycle. 
  • In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of any resilience programmes there must be wide-ranging participation of the community. For DFID to require participation of the most vulnerable groups is an important step towards improving sustainability. 

Designate a Director General as a humanitarian and resilience champion 
  • The decision to have a senior member of the DFID team to champion resilience is welcomed. 

Incorporating disaster risk reduction into all areas of DFID's work is crucial to reducing the economic and social impacts of natural and man-made disasters. Building resilience within communities, improving modeling in order to help anticipate hazards and target resilience building, and improving innovation to reduce risk and improve our response are all very important. It is good news that the Government has welcomed the vast majority of the conclusions of this report. In order to get the maximum positive impact from adopting these measures DFID must draw strongly on good science and engineering knowledge. There is a clear role also for those with the specialised knowledge and skills of the geosciences.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Key Themes: Infrastructure

Tanzania: Roads Agency
The 'Key Themes' posts are a series of short articles outlining the role that geologists have in various aspects of global development.

The sixth ‘Key Theme’ in which geologists have a significant role to play in reducing poverty, contributing to sustainable international development and improving lives is in the development of infrastructure. Physical infrastructure includes those things needed for society or enterprise to grow and flourish, and the economy to grow. It includes transport networks such as roads, airports and dockyards; energy networks such as power grids and pipelines; telecommunications networks; solid waste management and water management.

A joint report by the French Development Agency and World Bank has outlined the significant investment required in African infrastructure alone… a huge £93million per year, of which a third is for maintenance of existing infrastructure. This figure includes the cost of transport, power, water and communications networks. The physical geography of Africa, remoteness of communities and lack of competition means that there are significant logistical and financial challenges to developing infrastructure.

Infrastructure, however, is responsible for a significant proportion of Africa’s economic growth over recent years. From 1990-2005 it is believed that more than a half of the economic growth seen was as a result of investment in infrastructure, and the World Bank suggests that this percentage could grow further. The Millennium Development Goals suggest that economic growth of developing countries should be around 7% per year, figures were around 5% a year before the current global financial crisis. Continued investment in infrastructure could help countries move towards this 7% per year growth target.

Infrastructure is also hugely significant for human development. Power networks can lead to improvements in business, health and education. Safe and clean water supplies and sanitation save time, money spent on healthcare and prevent diseases. Transport networks improve businesses, increase markets and improve the flow of goods and food across the country. 

What role do geologists have to play in this sector?

Geologists have a significant role in various aspects of infrastructure development as outlined below:

Tanzania: Road
Transport Networks:  Engineering geologists are involved in investigating the ground conditions, identifying hazards and determining routes and locations for major transport networks such as roads, airports, dockyards and canals. Investigations of ground conditions help effective and sustainable design of structures and components of structures (for example foundations, slopes etc) ensuring networks are safe and long lasting. The identification of hazards such as slope stability, seismic risk, contamination of groundwater and subsidence are carefully considered and analysed, and appropriate measures are put into place to mitigate against failure. Design of routes is based on the results of geological, geotechnical and geomorphological mapping. Geologists can also play a crucial role in the design and construction of tunnels, and the identification of local raw materials to reduce the cost and environmental impact of the structure.

Energy Networks:  Geologists play an important role in the design of pipeline routes, ensuring hazards such as subsidence; seismic hazards and unstable slopes are identified. Foundation design and ground investigation for large power stations, environmental impact assessments for hydroelectric schemes and design of renewable resources such as geothermal power can also be addressed by those with a geoscience background.

Communications Networks:  Issues such as foundation design and geohazards assessment are crucial for many aspects of telecommunications networks – including radio-masts, and undersea fibre-optic cables, as well as large buildings and structures.

Solid Waste Management:  Design of landfill systems to prevent leaching of material into potable groundwater, and the build up of explosive gases. Identification of geologically stable sites for hazardous waste.

Tanzania: Water Pipe
Water & Wastewater Management:  As outlined in a previous ‘Key Theme’ discussing water resources, geologists have a significant role in the location, extraction and management of groundwater. In addition to the points raised in this Key Theme, there are additional roles for geologists with regards to the infrastructure required for provision of water and sanitation systems – in particular with regards to urban areas. The design of sewer systems requires extensive geological and engineering knowledge, as does the design of water pipelines (for those reasons set out for the design of energy pipeline routes).

Monday, 13 June 2011

Immunisations, Diarrhoea & The Missing Link

The decision today to pledge a further £814million towards a vaccination programme (GAVI) to reduce the impacts of pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases is admirable and welcome. In these times of economic difficulty the decision to make international development a key part of coalition policy must be applauded. We cannot balance our books on the back of the poorest people and it is fantastic that the UK can be global leaders in this sector. The percentage of our GDP that we spend on overseas aid is very small, currently 0.56% rising to 0.7% in 2013 – less than 1p for every pound that we earn. Yet this contribution can and does make a significant difference in the lives of people around the world. Our aid budget costs each person in the UK around 44p a day to help some of the billions around the world who have to live on less than £1.50 a day. That 44p each day puts millions into school, improves access to healthcare and vaccinations, prepares communities for natural disasters to reduce the impacts and cost of rebuilding, gives people clean and safe water – stopping them walking for hours to collect some… and many other things.

However the announcement today, in particular the immunisation programme to reduce deaths due to diarrhoeal diseases must be set into its correct context:

Firstly… The vaccination to reduce the number of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases is only for those cases caused as a result of the rotavirus, accounting for on average 39% of childhood hospitalisations as a result of diarrhoeal diseases. In order to fully address the problem of diarrhoeal diseases there also needs to be significant investment in, and prioritisation of access to clean and safe water, improved sanitation and more hygiene promotion (WASH). Simple measures such as increasing handwashing can reduce the number of deaths by anything between 33-44% – but this requires investment in sanitation facilities, community hygiene workers and education programmes. Investment in clean water supplies is also fundamental to reducing the risk of disease. Oral rehydration cannot be done without clean and safe water. Dirty water carries bacteria and viruses, which can result in serious disease and adverse effects on health.

Secondly… Funding for the vaccination itself is the easy part; the difficult part is the administration of this vaccine. Investment in the health-sector to ensure there are health-workers to administrate the vaccine is required also. This point was raised in David Cameron’s Q&A session following his speech by Save the Children, and Cameron recognised this as a requirement also.

Thirdly… There are the challenges of infrastructure, and poor access to many of the poorest communities due to lack of or very poor roads. These vaccines are no use in a box, on a shelf, in a storeroom… they only have use if administered to those in need.

In conclusion, the reduction of diarrhoeal diseases requires an integrated approach and cannot be done solely through immunisation. The UK contribution to GAVI must be welcomed, however it would be good to see an integrated strategy to deal with this preventable disease through both immunisation and significant improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. Earlier posts have set out the fundamental role of geologists in locating and developing water resources – and this case study highlights why clean water sources, improved sanitation and hygiene promotion are fundamental to the reduction of disease and poverty in communities across the developing world. Immunisations are a good and positive step forward - but the 'missing link' is improved WASH... which should be playing a much more prominent role in the discussions and debates taking place today.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Work of a Volcanologist

There's a brilliant audio slideshow on the BBC website giving us an insight into the life and work of volcanologists. Dr Tamsin Mather from the University of Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences gives some interesting insights and commentates on a range of pictures. 

Volcanoes affect regions around the world, notably the Pacific Ring with countries such as Chile, Indonesia and Japan. There are also  volcanoes across Europe (Iceland, Italy etc), in Africa (Rwanda, Democratic republic of Congo) and the USA.

USGS: Volcano Distribution Map

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Fighting The Case For Overseas Aid

For those keen watchers of the BBC political programme Question Time, you may remember a few weeks ago Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail columnist, stating her belief that the Department for International Development should be closed down. Since then the Daily Mail have published a few articles and columns such as this one yesterday, followed by numerous comments from members of the public supporting the view that aid should be slashed and very few in favour of our overseas aid spending (although this could partly be due to the fact that the Daily Mail moderate their comments, perhaps giving a somewhat skewed opinion). 

The public perception of overseas aid is difficult to state outright. Melanie Phillips' comment that DFID should be closed down was overwhelmingly booed by the Question Time audience - although this again is probably not a reasonable representation of the UK view overall. The Daily Mail comments section is probably not completely representative either. It's more likely that opinion is somewhere between these two extremes, regretfully nearer to the Daily Mail side than the Question Time side according to some surveys. Around the time of the Emergency Budget this time last year, one survey suggested only 6% of people thought DFID's budget should be ringfenced and 43% thought it should be slashed.

Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, has reportedly stated that the decision by the Coalition Government to ringfence this budget, and increase spending to 0.7% of GDP is one that needs "daily justification" to members of the public. Although he is supported by the vast majority of MPs from all political parties, as stated before the public are wary about this in the current economic climate. I've been impressed by the Government's attempts to persuade people, and their attempt to push other G8 nations into meeting their pledges - although there is still a lot of work to do before public opinion shifts. Andrew Mitchell is due to appear on Question Time this week - it will be interesting to see if overseas aid is discussed again (Thurs 9th June, BBC 1, 10.35pm).

A while ago, when DFID announced the results of their Aid Review, I wrote an article outlining why it is the right thing to spend money on international development. I understand there is a need to address issues of corruption and accountability, but the key point is that we are doing the right thing in spending money on international development. As someone who therefore believes in the importance of international development, believes in the huge responsibility we have to reduce poverty and improving the conditions of life for people across the globe, and someone who has seen firsthand the benefits this can make - I also have a duty and desire to work to bring the British public on board. My sphere of influence will obviously be far smaller than Andrew Mitchell's but I can still comment on articles in the media, draw people's attention to the good work DFID, NGOs and overseas governments are doing, and make a reasoned case for the 0.7% GDP pledge - making and fighting the case for overseas aid. If you also believe in the importance of this... why not take five minutes to write to your MP, local newspaper etc to outline why you support this crucial and important work!

An excellent resource you could use to outline why it is so important for us to take a lead can be found at This site contrasts what life would be like if we were born in, and lived in another country. For example if I was born in Tanzania, I would be 31 more times likely to have HIV/AIDS, over 14 times more likely to die in infancy, die 26.7 years younger and make 96% less money. This site helps you to put life in perspective, empathise, and hopefully makes it hard to say no to spending less than 1p from every pound earned in this country, on overseas aid.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Volcanism In Southern Chile

Licancabur, one of the 500 or so
potentially active volcanoes found in Chile
There has been increased volcanic activity in southern Chile over the past couple of days, with the eruptions in the Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle volcanic range. The eruptions have caused disruption, and the evacuation of 3000 residents. Communities in Argentina have also been affected due to the wind direction. The volcanic activity was preceded by several minor earthquakes, with no recorded major earthquakes yet. 

Although the volcanic eruption is quite prominent in the UK/USA news, it is not entirely unexpected. The particular chain of volcanoes in question has not erupted for around 50-years, however prior to that had erupted fairly regularly. Monitoring of seismic activity in the region has been ongoing for some time. The Chilean authorities are very used to evacuations and responding to natural hazards. Volcanism in the country is not a significant problem/threat for the vast majority of the population (despite having around 2000 volcanoes, of which 500 are potentially active), only a few villages at the base of them, as Dr John Cobin writes. Seismic activity, on the other hand, affects many more people.

Images of the ash cloud and the effects on local communities can be found on many news sites - a few good examples are the BBC News website, Denver Post Site, and the Guardian

Friday, 3 June 2011

Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System - A Water Resource For North Africa

The Guardian recently posted a fascinating article about the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS). The NSAS is a fossil aquifer (i.e. the aquifer formed in the past, storing water, and is not being recharged today - thus it is a non-renewable resource) underlying the countries of Egypt, Chad, Sudan and Libya. The NSAS is believed to hold 150, 000Km3 of water, making it the largest fossil aquifer in the world. Conveniently it is also under one of the driest areas of the world.

Drill Bit
Libya is currently exploiting this resource, and other reserves, to bring fresh water to coastal communities. They are extracting around 2.37km3 a year, feeding it through irrigation systems and bringing it to the coastal communities. There is also exploitation of the aquifer by Egypt. Chad and Sudan are planning to or have only recently begun exploiting the aquifer. The UNDP and other agencies are working closely with the governments of the region to try and ensure the sustainable extraction of this non-renewable resource. Agreements have been made between the four countries to share information and knowledge and work in partnership to access this resource for the benefit of their respective developments. However there are likely to be a number of challenges as a result of this being such a large, transboundary aquifer.

Over the coming years there is likely to be a number of factors that lead to a growing demand for water. An increase in population, rising temperatures, increasing saltwater intrusion in coastal aquifers, and food insecurity could all lead to growing demand for fresh-water for drinking and irrigation. The water resources from the Nubian Aquifer could prove to be a lifeline for these north-east African nations. As this is a transboundary aquifer, there is the potential for conflict over control of the water-supply, although that does not seem to have been the case to date. The unfolding political situation in North Africa could change this, or secure and cement this. 

In addition, the countries must ensure the environmental protection of this aquifer. The potential for contamination in one country to reach another country is not out of the question, especially in the border regions. Strict environmental regulation must be in place in all four countries - again requiring clear dialogue.

Finally, there is the interesting question of what effect will there be on climate and sea-levels from adding an additional 150,000km3 of water into the modern-day water cycle. This is not water that has recently recharged the aquifer, but water that is believed to be around 40,000 years old.

The NSAS is an important and useful resource for global development in North-East Africa. Its sustainable use could lead to successful irrigation projects, and development for the impoverished communities of these countries. However, as the Guardian pointed out, reliance on this aquifer as the principal water source for communities leaves them very vulnerable. The instability of the region means that leaders could (thankfully they haven't yet) shut off the water supply to communities. It is to be hoped  that this resource brings benefit to the people who need it most, and is used in a safe and effective way in order to maximise its lifetime.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Key Themes: Natural Resources

Native Gold
The 'Key Themes' posts are a series of short articles outlining the role that geologists have in various aspects of global development.

Natural resources include things such as precious metals, rare earth metals, base metals, industrial minerals, gemstones, fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and construction materials (aggregate, sand, clay, limestone). These materials are found in various types, proportions and qualities across the globe. The natural resources of a country can contribute significantly to its economic development through increasing production and manufacturing, securing energy supply, increasing export revenues and reducing costs for local businesses and households.  

Chile: Copper Mine
The extraction of natural resources can be done on a number of scales. Large scale mining is heavily mechanised, productive and normally involves a large global consultancy or mining company. Small-scale mining is done by local people, working with limited tools, in difficult conditions and low productivity. Artisinal mining or subsistence mining is done by individuals - panning gold, generating aggregate etc. It is often done in poor conditions, and can be illegal. DFID and the World Bank are involved in a "Collaborative group on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (CASM)" that work to reduce poverty through improving the environmental, social and economic performance of artisinal and small scale mining in developing countries.  

What role do geologists have to play in this sector?

Geologists have a crucial role in locating, extracting, processing and protecting the natural resources that our economies and lifestyles are reliant on. 

Chile: Mapping of calcite veins
Locating: Geologists use a wide range of techniques to identify economic reserves of minerals and fossil fuels. These techniques can include a desk-based review of the geology (predicting possible reserves), geological mapping of surface outcrops, correlation of borehole logs, geophysical techniques, geochemical analysis and remote sensing. 

Extracting: Geologists work on extracting the mineral/fossil fuel through effective planning. Mining and engineering geologists use their skills in rock mechanics, tunneling and slope stability in order to design opencast and deep mines. Hydrogeologists work to ensure mine waste and materials don't contaminate local water supplies. 

Processing: Many materials are extracted in an impure state and need further processing. geologists can be involved in the analysis of material, determination of its quality and the extraction of further materials to be used in the processing of the material.

Protection: Geologists must play a crucial role in ensuring that the extraction of natural resources is done in a safe and sustainable way. Geologists must ensure that groundwater and soils are protected from contamination, employees are working in a safe environment (not at risk of mine collapse, poisonous gases etc) and resources are being used in a sustainable manner. Natural resources are finite, and thus will run out.

Geologists also have a role in protecting the development of the wider community, through standing against corruption at all levels. Those extracting the minerals/fossil fuels will normally pay fees to the host country government, a valuable source of income that should be reinvested into education, healthcare, water and sanitation and infrastructure. Corruption, however, means that sometimes this money ends up in private bank accounts. An open and accountable attitude within the sector would do a lot to improve this state of affairs. If mining companies, for example, declare the fees they pay to the government - local people can hold them to account to make sure they are getting the best deal, and are investing the money wisely. The NGO Tearfund are campaigning for a change in the law to make this declaration of payments compulsory. 

Further Reading